2016 NCWIT Summit – NCWIT Flash Tank

NCWIT Flash Tank
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[upbeat music] [audience clapping and cheering]

LUCY SANDERS: All right, time for one of our favorite sessions of the whole summit, the NCWIT Flash Shark Tank. So I’m really looking forward to the presentations and we’ll be thanking the members representing numerous times through this event, but let’s thank them first for their bravery and for their great ideas, thank you. [audience clapping] Of course we have to welcome back to the stage Dr. Jeffrey Forbes, our customary emcee of this event. Many of us know Jeff from National Science Foundation where he was a program director in the science directorate. Today he is back at Duke University and he is an associate professor of the practice of computer science at Duke, and dean, is that new? Associate dean, sorry, I promoted you. That’s okay, I guess that’s the way it usually happens. Associate dean at Duke University’s Trinity College. Please welcome Jeff to the stage.

JEFFREY FORBES: Thank you so much, Lucy. So I’m very happy to be here for another year to emcee our favorite, well hopefully all of our favorite pastimes, Flash Talks and combining it with the TV show Shark Tank. So, we’re gonna bring those two things together today. So NCWIT has always relied on its members to guide the organization with insight and ideas. And the Flash Talks, in the Flash Tank, are just another way to hear new ideas from our community about what more NCWIT can be doing to move the needle on increasing the meaningful participation of girls and women in computing. I hope many of you had the chance to attend the 2015 Flash Tank Flashback Workshop today, which focused on NCWIT’s response to last year’s winning presentation by Professor Linda Ott. During the workshop, speakers discussed the nature of career assessments, avenues of inquiry NCWIT explored in response to Dr. Ott’s concern, and steps NCWIT is taking to present realistic and appealing depictions of computing education and careers. NCWIT’s work on this issue is far from complete, but we are thankful Dr. Ott stepped into the Flash Tank to present her idea, so thank you again to Dr. Ott. So, just like last year, at least one innovative idea from today will be selected for ideation and possible implementation by NCWIT. So here’s how it works. Six members of the NCWIT community, six very brave members, will spend five minutes each giving a Flash Talk on new things NCWIT could do to help our change-leader community advance girls, women and computing. Our panel of experts, or Sharks, will moderate a 10 minute discussion after each talk to allow the presenter to expand upon his or her idea. The Sharks, or judges, they are actually very nice sharks, will convene after the session and deliberate on the winning pitch. We will announce the winning idea tomorrow morning at the beginning of the plenary session. The winning presenter will receive a Surface Pro 3, compliments of Microsoft. Thank you Microsoft. [audience applause] And now, our esteemed judges for this year. First up, we have Matt Wallert, who’s East Coast Lead and Behavioral Scientist for Microsoft Ventures. [audience applause] Next we have Alicia Lebrija, who’s the Executive President of the Fundacion Televisa A.C.1. [audience applause] And then Yunfei Xu, who’s the Senior Engineering Manager at Bloomberg. [audience applause] And last, and certainly not least, comedian Jane Condon. [audience applause]

JANE CONDON: Thank you Jeffrey. May the spirit of Grace Hopper be with you.

JEFFREY FORBES: Thanks for being here, so we’re definitely gonna have a good time today. So let’s get started. Our first Flash Talk is A Missing Piece of the Puzzle, Community College Students and Faculty, presented by Jill Denner. Let’s welcome Jill to the stage. [audience applause]

JILL DENNER: Hi everyone, I’m honored to be here today to tell you why I think NCWIT should increase their focus on community colleges in their efforts to address diversity in IT. Community Colleges are two year schools that offer certificates, bachelor’s degrees, I’m sorry, I’ll try it again. There are eleven hundred community colleges in the US. They offer certifications, associate’s degrees, and an increasing number also offer bachelor’s degrees. So why do we care about community colleges? Well, there are 10 and a half million students enrolled in public two year colleges. That’s almost a million more than are enrolled in public four year colleges. The average age is 29 and most work full or part time. In addition, women are earning more computer science associate’s degrees than they’re earning computer science bachelor’s degrees. That means community colleges are doing a better job of retention than four year universities and we have something important to learn from that. There’s also more diversity at community colleges. Half of all students at community colleges self-identify as a racial or ethnic minority. 42% are the first in their family to attend college and half of all Hispanic students who go on to earn four year degrees started at a community college. So with these great numbers in diversity, you’d think tech companies would be recruiting directly from community colleges, so what’s the problem? I’m gonna tell you about three structural barriers that are getting in the way of community colleges having opportunities that they need. For example, a lot of tech companies offer opportunities for undergraduates to do internships, and offer amazing connections and job training, but these are often targeted to third or fourth year students, or juniors or seniors. That leaves out many community college students who bring real world experience and some of the soft skills that tech companies value. In addition, community colleges don’t always provide a clear course sequence to complete certificates and degrees. There are also a lack of great resources for community college students and their faculty and advisors to guide them on this pathway, and so what happens is without this guidance, they take classes that are not necessary for graduation and it delays their transition into the workforce. So, in addition to these structural barriers there’s also negative stereotypes about faculty and students at community colleges that limit their access and opportunities. But like most stereotypes, the data don’t support that. So for example, many people believe that students go to community colleges just ’cause they can’t get into a four year university, but in fact, students often go to save money. It’s a less expensive way to try out different majors or to take required courses. They also choose to stay closer to home and to family. In addition, stereotypes about faculty are also not true. The vast majority have advanced degrees. Many also have incredible industry experience that allows them to connect coursework with workforce needs. They also choose this setting because they want prioritize teaching. So, because of these stereotypes, many people who earn credit, certifications, and degrees at community colleges don’t even print it on their CV, but in fact, if you look at women, over half of all women who earn STEM degrees, started out at a community college. So, NCWIT can take some specific actions to address these structural barriers and these stereotypes. In particular they can reduce structural barriers, they can increase the participation and leadership of community colleges. So for instance, they could continue to bring together community colleges with tech companies to help align coursework with workforce needs, create opportunities for internships and allow for recruitment fairs. They can also target community colleges for their aspirations awards, reduce barriers to colleges becoming pacesetters organizations, and target them for instructional materials that go into their Engage CS EDU repository. NCWIT can also continue to make the great resources that we all know about. The community college outreach group, many of the people are in this audience, has already began to create resources at this website. We need more, we need talking points on how to challenge stereotypes about community college faculty and students. We also need NCWIT to help us synthesize and disseminate the research that’s out there. The National Science Foundation and companies like Google are funding research that can go into reports like this. So in summary, I hope I’ve convinced you that community colleges are an untapped resource for our efforts to increase diversity in IT. We need community colleges at the table and in leadership roles. We need to challenge stereotypes about faculty and students and we need to do and synthesize research to inform these efforts. So I hope this talk has inspired NCWIT to take a stronger stand around community colleges and I hope it’s increased awareness by all of you about why community colleges are indeed the missing piece of the diversity in IT puzzle. Thank you. [audience applause]

JANE CONDON: Well done. Do we talk now?

JILL DENNER: I hope so. [panel laughing]

JANE CONDON: They told me my job here is to react and listen, which is nothing I’m qualified for, this is not what comedians do. But, I think it’s a great idea, it is a vast, well… vast untapped resource. I was also wondering where you got that red ladder ’cause I’m always losing my ladders. But, anyway, it was a great presentation, it’s a great idea.

JILL DENNER: Thank you.

YUNFEI XU: All right, so this is a topic that’s really close to heart, ’cause I’m a proud graduate of City University of New York, any CUNY graduates here? There you go, so I have a Master’s degree from CUNY, so I’m also the ambassador of my company to CUNY and one, I think you pointed out barriers and I think those barriers are there. The internships are very hard to get. Have you done any research around the preparation for interviews and recruiting ’cause I think that’s where those schools need help with is the preparation of the students, they’re so busy, they work and they have family to raise and all that. Any work around that area?

JILL DENNER: I’m not aware about any research specifically on preparing community college students for the workforce. The research I’ve done is focused on intention to continue to study computer science among students that are enrolled at community colleges, so I know a little bit about the barriers there. But I think that’s an area that needs to be funded and supported.

YUNFEI XU: That’s great.

ALICIA LEBRIJA: Thank you very much, Jill. I think the issue of a community college and it reinforcing identity issues and I think that becomes really important, so the target of your interest, I find it robust and I find it really interesting. How, and the whole purpose of diversity in technology, what could these young people really promote and do differently than the big universities? Do you have an idea on the contribution that the students from community colleges that are different, what would they contribute?

JILL DENNER: I think it’s an interesting question, I mean community college students are such a vast, they’re so diverse in and of themselves. You have students who are coming straight out of high school into a community college. You have students who already have a bachelor’s degree, or a higher degree and are coming back to get job skills or to retrain. You have students who, for whatever reason, did not go to college and are coming back for the first time. And so there’s just a vast diversity of perspectives, they bring real world experience. Many are parents who have negotiated and project managed in that setting, but they haven’t done it maybe in a formal workforce setting. They bring a diversity of cultures and perspectives that we so need in the IT world, so I think there’s all those different things, and I think it’s hard to talk about community college students as a whole, which is what I just did, but they are a diverse group in and of themselves and I think they have different contributions because of that. [audience applause]

MATT WALLERT: So I love it, look I’m a first generation college kid like many of the people I went to high school with, ended up at Lane Community College, you know, it is the transitional step for many people in a rural community like mine, so it’s a subject that’s near and dear to my heart. And it’s what we’re actually struggling with at Microsoft. You know Microsoft internships traditionally, one of the requirements has been a four year computer science degree, and sort of how do we navigate that both as new students and also returning to work students? It’s a difficult one for I think us as companies. You know I think what I wanna ask you is sort of around trying to make this actual for NCWIT, obviously a huge topic and there’s many ways for us to attack it. What’s the thin edge of the wedge for you? Is it talking to industry about why, is it smoothing the hiring path and going out and working with our industry partners to make sure that the hiring makes sense? Is it going to students and saying hey this is a viable option to get into computer science, hey, like sort of more on the drafting side? Or is it addressing current community college students on the identity piece of, hey this can be a good degree here are paths forward for you. Does that make sense? You identify, hey there’s an advisory issue like, where do you think the thin edge of the wedge is?

JILL DENNER: I think it’s all of those things. I think NCWIT can really help to challenge these negative stereotypes about faculty and students and I think to help tech companies understand that actually there is a resource at community colleges that they may not be aware of, and there’s diversity there. I also think that by really targeting community college students for aspirations awards and to become pacesetters organizations and really getting their voices at the table here in leadership roles, they can really bring that perspective and it’d be a natural flow for NCWIT and for the companies and the universities that are here to really start understanding the incredible benefit we can get, and we can really move the needle if we really put community colleges front and center in a way they haven’t been. So I think it’s everything, I think it’s the stereotypes, I think it’s the structural barriers, I think NCWIT can do a lot and I would imagine most of you here would agree.

JANE CONDON: Totally. [audience applause]

JILL DENNER: Thank you.

JANE CONDON: Am I supposed to do anything funny? Oh.

JEFFREY FORBES: So, thank you so much, Jill. So next up we have Equity and Scale, a Five Year Plan to Bring Computing to Every Girl, presented by Emmanuel Schanzer. Come on up Emmanuel. [audience applause]

EMMANUEL SCHANZER: Hey, how’s it goin’? Hey everybody. So, I wanna start this talk off with a simple, ambitious goal. Every girl graduates from high school with a positive, rigorous education in computer science. In fact, wait, let’s think big. This is a plan to bring CS4All to every child in five years. We’re gonna need three ingredients. Scale without equity means offering computer science in every school, but all the kids who sign up are boys. The hour of code will get you scale and equity, but I would be the first to tell you that’s CS exposure, not a rigorous education. There are brilliant teachers in this very room who teach rigorous computer science to a diverse group of students, but at a scale of just one school. Look, getting any one of these ingredients is relatively easy, but getting two is extremely hard. For CS4All, we need all three. So four roadblocks stand in our path. First, getting CS certification in all 50 states is gonna take a lot of years and a lot of dollars, and once that’s done we need to recruit and train 20 to 30 thousand dedicated full time CS teachers, which will take a lot more years and a lot more dollars. Once they’re hired, retaining those teachers means paying billions of dollars in salaries every single year forever. And that’s if they’re not lured away by Silicon Valley, right? So, suppose we solve all three, there’s a doozy at the end. There’s a finite amount of time in the day and space in the building, so where do these CS classes fit? Finding national scale solutions to all four problems will take decades and cost billions, and until then, computing will suffer from what we call the opt-in problem. Opt-in computer science must compete with opt-in music, theater, art, sports, jobs, child care, and everything else. And NCWIT knows better than anyone which demographic is gonna pick CS over all the rest. Preaching to the same choir over and over destroys our chance at equity, so maybe we can learn from another for all. The math folks get equity by design because every student takes math. They get rigor because the content is well-suited to rigorous structure and evaluation. And for scale, there’s a hundred thousand math teachers nationwide teaching millions of kids. So here’s a question. What if CS was part of math? We could leverage the billions of dollars and tens of thousands of teachers that already reach every child in America. We could get CS4All in years, not decades, and at a cost of millions, not billions. Sounds great, right? One big problem, content. You see math teachers are under extraordinary time pressure from standardized tests, and even if they weren’t, they have to cover an enormous amount of math topics during the year. So topics like class inheritance and object orientation just don’t fit. But it gets worse. Most of the computing people teaching K-12 actively undermines mathematics. We teach kids that one over three equals zero. That a variable can be redefined, or that a function can fail the vertical line test. No math teacher’s gonna go for that. And they shouldn’t have to, they deserve answers to the problems that they care about. And at Bootstrap we actually know something about this, right? All our kids program video games using pure algebra. Algebra is the gateway to STEM, business, finance, and CS. It’s a graduation requirement that disproportionally hurts underserved kids. So you wanna move the needle, you wanna narrow the achievement gap? You do it with algebra. We’ve published results showing an improvement in algebra outcomes for students across populations, and we did it by aligning our software, our programming language, curriculum, and pedagogy so it supports math, not undermines it. And because math teachers see that it’s math, they’re buying in. This year, 15,000 students nationwide are learning Bootstrap in math classes taught by teachers with little to no computing background. Hour of code gets you universal exposure, but for CS4All we need universal education, and a bridge that brings millions of additional students into the other opt-in CS classes. So how are we gonna do this? We’re gonna train 20,000 in-service math teachers, and we’re gonna partner with large pre-service math teacher pipelines, so every new math teacher is ready to teach computing in their math class on day one. So what can NCWIT do? If you’re here from the Academic Alliance we want to partner with you, so that every new math teacher from your ed school is ready to teach computer science in their math class on day one. Being able to teach programming to every kid in the school is a huge competitive advantage for your graduates, and sets your program apart. We also need to form partnerships with the math ed community. Shouting computational thinking doesn’t work, and now it doesn’t have to. We have the data, and I challenge NCWIT to make organizations like NCTM, Math for America, and others a part of the K-12 alliance this year. For the companies that get the connection between CS4All and a large pipeline of brilliant technical women, we can make CS4All a reality for a fraction of the cost and time. We can wait 10 years, spend billions, or we can do it now, in five. I wanna end this talk with a vision of where we can be. Every child in America gets a rigorous, positive education in computer science in a way that allows districts to do it without finding time in the schedule or money in the budget, and we do it in a way that reinforces algebra, which has impacts on everything, from high school graduation to standardized test scores, and reinforces the computer science that makes more students prepared for the incredible other CS programs in this room. If every kid walked in with this foundation, think of what we could accomplish. This is a program that works. NCWIT knows community building and scale better than anyone. We can do it in five years and we think that’s an idea worth investing in. [audience applause]

JANE CONDON: Having the least math of anybody, I wanna go first. I would willingly give up some sine and cosine to have computer language in my background. What I think is really brilliant about this is that it answers that old question of when am I ever gonna use this? Well guess what, this is gonna get you a friggen’ job. And I think that’s very persuasive. I think honestly you might make more people wanna go into teaching math, you might then lose them again. But they could rotate in and out. I think it’s a brilliant piggyback idea and I applaud you for thinking of it.


YUNFEI XU: I think this is a wonderful, wonderful idea. As a mom of two school aged boys I can’t wait for this program to become reality, but I do think that there’s one question I have is around how do you keep the levels to be consistent across the teachers, ’cause I think with the math concept they didn’t really change throughout hundreds of years, but computer science is a hard science, ’cause it keeps changing. So in terms of training do you expect NCWIT to recommend programs so that every couple of years the teachers can be trained properly? That’s one thing I worry about is the training about computer science.

EMMANUEL SCHANZER: So this is a great question, and the problem is that we have this belief as a society, that if you drew a Venn diagram of all of computer science and all of math that there’d be this huge overlap, and there isn’t. So the hard part is that we gotta train teachers on the part of computer science that is directly driven from the math standards. Once we go outside that intersection we lose them, right? So the bad news is it’s really hard to develop a curriculum based on this, but after 10 years of research we figured it out. The good news, in answer to your question, is that because it’s so narrowly defined, it doesn’t change, there are certain math standards that are not gonna be changing for a very long time, because as you say, algebra’s fixed. And as long as we color inside those lines with our computer science, that part don’t change.

ALICIA LEBRIJA: Thank you, Emmanuel. I’d like to know a little bit about what are the incentives for teachers to opt-in? I think you’re talking about teacher training and anyone who’s dealt with teacher training, it means not only wanting to be in, but being qualified to be in. So there are those questions on the one hand, what are the incentives and how does this play over time? And exactly what are those profile of math teachers that can do this, and which ones are not?

EMMANUEL SCHANZER:That’s a great question. So I think the problem of certain teachers being at different levels from other teachers is gonna happen for any possible CS4All initiative. This is a problem we’re all trying to face. I think we have a slight benefit in focusing on math teachers specifically, because math teachers have to teach certain core concepts. Function, variable, abstraction, checking your work, right? Things like test cases, so I think in that sense even though there might be the same distribution the math distribution is shifted over in a positive direction. As far as the teachers getting them to opt-in, the good news is that of the hundreds of teachers we work with, a small minority of them love us because they think it’s like a computing class, the majority of them just view it as a really good algebra intervention, so for them they aren’t even seeing this as cramming new stuff in that they have to love, they see it as a new and better way to teach math.

ALICIA LEBRIJA: Can I just do a follow up question?

EMMANUEL SCHANZER: We have lots of time, you ask all the follow ups you want.

ALICIA LEBRIJA: And in terms of the students, some students are actually quite adverse to math. What’s their attitude towards computer science? Won’t we by matching math and computer science, won’t we be saying to many of them not math, not computer science?

EMMANUEL SCHANZER: So this is a great question, right? Because for the students, you say look, you can be in an algebra class doing what you always do, or you can build a video game of your own design.

JANE CONDON: No, this makes math sexy to me.

ALICIA LEBRIJA: Maybe, maybe yeah.

JANE CONDON: It doesn’t take much for me.

ALICIA LEBRIJA: And depending on how you–

EMMANUEL SCHANZER: And so what’s important though too, is remember, the important part here isn’t just the building the game, it’s the your own design. It’s that there’s ownership. We give kids so few opportunities, especially in math to be creative, to be builders, and so when you say look, you’ve got a little brother or a little sister, you wanna make a game about making healthy choices with your diet, or protecting the climate. That’s so powerful, and to be able to bring that into a math class is just, it’s awesome.


MATT WALLERT: So, I think it’s a great idea, I mean echoing where other folks are goin’ here. My background as a product designer I always wanna go into the details, right? You know, I think this is a great way to sort of draft off existing math programs, but I do share concerns around sort of how do we go about actually implementing it, so help me understand. Do you think that, we talk about, you had a bullet point that you breezed by which was we train 20,000 teachers. Existing teachers? New teachers? How do we go about doing that? Delve into it a little bit for me.

EMMANUEL SCHANZER: So just to be clear, that was the proposal that in five years we set the goal of 20,000. So the way we do this is we partner with school districts, there’s actually a number of school districts in the room that we’ve partnered with, and we work with New York City, Chicago, the state of Rhode Island, if you guys are here, we work with the state of Rhode Island. And again that’s because there are two forces that drive getting the teachers in the door. One is, whether a district cares about computer science or not, they really care about algebra. Every kid who fails algebra basically can’t graduate from high school, it’s the most repeated class, so a principal who is only concerned about their high school graduation rates is still gonna opt-in. But the second reason that drives this is that for all the districts and superintendents and mayors and governors who made proclamations that we will all teach computer science in x number of years, well now they have something hanging over their head that they have to get to. And for many districts they have fantastic options and resources to bring in multiple CS programs and build a pathway, but there are some that aren’t so fortunate, and we give them a way to get there very quickly using the teachers they already have. So we think there’s a significant engine to get those 20,000 and we’re already getting strong interest from districts across the country.

MATT WALLERT: So let me engage with something you said, because I would love to hear your response. How do you respond to pushback from people who are pushing this isn’t computer science, like I want a dedicated computer science class, who basically are arguing this isn’t going far enough? Does doing this undermine it? Do you think it’s a pathway to dedicated, you know when you look at districts do you think that this is a pathway to an end curriculum of computer science or do you think that this ends up being the oh we did it, check in the box computer science, move on.

EMMANUEL SCHANZER: I think it’s a great question. So first let me just talk about computer science in this curriculum on its own merits and then talk about the much bigger issue of building bridges to other opt-in programs. So in this program, students build a video game, largely from scratch, so they have to write animation, image processing code, conditionals, boundary detection. They deal with data types, writing comments for their code, and even writing test cases. So there’s a significant amount of computer science in here, and in fact, things like test cases and commenting code are things that often you don’t find in K-12 CS, but the reason we put them in is because they come from the math standards. Kids have to, excuse me, state the problem in their own words, kids have to write examples that test out their solutions. So we’re able to do a huge amount of computer science just in this program, so as far as it standing on its own merits, we feel very good about it. But that’s actually small potatoes compared to the potential. So if it’s a school district that is offering some of the incredible opt-in programs that are out there, some of the other full CS curricula in the pipeline, this is a really nice way to do it, because look, you can put coding, programming, computer science, in front of every child ’cause everybody takes algebra. Which means you’re gonna have far more kids who’ve been exposed to it in an environment where it’s not just the boys and you have the token girl or the token student of color, we’re all in this together in this math classroom. So they’re 10 times more likely to apply and to opt-in to these other programs. So we see this as a way, as a rising tide that lifts all boats, both in terms of motivating more students and then giving them a stronger base foundation so when they opt-in to the AP CS class or the other class, suddenly they’re coming in knowing all this stuff from jump. One thing I do wanna say, by the way, before I sit down is that Bootstrap is part of a large team, and there are two people here who I would be remiss to not name, Kathi Fisler and Emma Youndsmith. They are amazing women who I am proud to work with here. I just wanted to make sure that I named them, so thank you. [audience applause]

JEFFREY FORBES: Thank you, Emmanuel. So next up we have Advocates, Bridging the Gap Between Your People Team and Your People, by Jill Wetzler. [audience applause]

JANE CONDON: Thank you for looking so nice. [audience laughs]

JILL WETZLER: Hi, my name is Jill Wetzler, I’m Director of Engineering at Lyft, and what I’d like to pitch to you today is a program called Advocates. This is a supplement to your existing HR programs, meant to bridge the gap between your people team and your people. I’m a manager, so I work very closely with HR, and thus I really understand their role in helping me grow my engineers and shape the culture of my org, and I go to my HR business partner frequently to ask for help and bounce ideas off of her. But I wanna actually go back and talk about a time years ago at a former company. A group of women engineers are sitting in a room speaking very candidly with each other and one engineer shares a pretty minor but definitely unfair comment that her manager had made in a team meeting. She didn’t feel comfortable talking to him about it, so I asked her did you go to HR? And everybody in the room looks puzzled. So I look around and I realize I’m the only manager in the room and I ask how many of you would feel more comfortable coming to me than your HR business partner? And all the hands go up. Those who aren’t accustomed to working with HR might associate them with bad things, getting fired, lay-offs, small complaints launching large investigations. Maybe they had a friend who had a bad experience with HR and trust me, no one ever talks about the good experiences, or they might associate HR with things they hear in the news. A woman leaves a company over a mishandled case of harassment, a black woman leaves a company citing a toxic work culture, having to prove herself over and over again, being mistaken for janitorial staff, et cetera. If these are the associations that your employees make with HR, and they might simply because that relationship is unknown to them, then it’s no surprise that they’re gonna feel more comfortable talking to people that they identify with personally and professionally. And you do want them to talk. You don’t want serious legal concerns going unreported, nor do you want the paper cuts that affect your employees to be ignored, and disregarding either of these things can spell bad news for your company and its culture in the form of lawsuits or negative press, and at the expense of your employees. What I’m proposing is a new bridge between your people and HR through a group of trusted advocates. Advocates can be a small group of employees with an extremely diverse set of identities. They represent your most under-represented employees who are often the most vulnerable to bias and harassment. It’s critical that they reflect the majority of groups in your company, but it’s even more critical that as much as possible they are black women, latino men, they identify as LGBT, they understand gender fluidity and disability or they’re over 50. But most importantly, they’re recognizable as being successful in roles outside of HR, and preferably have experience coaching employees. They don’t have to be well known internally, people will identify with them simply because they navigate their role at the intersection of their age, gender, and ethnicity. What I didn’t mention in my earlier story is that I barely knew any of the women in the room, much less the woman who complained about her manager, yet people felt that as a woman in tech myself I would understand that subtle questioning of whether a passing comment is biased. So let’s say you’ve identified your advocates. How does this work? Any employee can reach out and request an anonymous meeting with any advocate of their choosing and for any purpose, however large or small. They’re especially encouraged to reach out to report microaggressions. At the beginning of this meeting advocates review the confidentiality pledge they’ve signed and lets the reporter know the circumstances in which their discussions might be escalated to HR and their identity revealed. Advocates listen, they make their colleague feel heard and they walk them through the appropriate options. So let’s take a couple of examples. A man is uncomfortable with how much his coworker touches him. He reaches out to an advocate who can then provide comfort and support during the escalation process and help him articulate what’s happening to HR. But let’s say a woman feels the feedback from her boss is unfair and she’s just getting kind of a vague feeling that it’s inactionable. And she doesn’t wanna go to HR ’cause she assumes that doing so is gonna launch an investigation on her boss. Her advocate can protect her anonymity while helping her process the situation. They can share how they’ve responded to similar situations, coach her through having a discussion with her boss, and encourage her to go talk to HR. However, the beauty of this program is that even if she chooses not to talk to HR the conversation doesn’t end there. On a regular basis, HR and the advocates convene to discuss any issues that were brought up since the last time they met. At this point HR can request identifying information if there was a legal issue that was missed, or they can look for patterns. I would love to have NCWIT’s support in putting together a work team from partnering companies who are interested in bringing a program like Advocates to life and piloting it within their own companies. I’d like to have NCWIT’s help in conducting research on the outcome of such a program and release their findings along with a toolkit for other companies to follow. Let’s do right by our under-represented employees and give them a new way to inspire meaningful change in our organizations that allows them to connect with leaders that they identify with and lets them know that they have an advocate. Thank you. [audience applause]

JANE CONDON: I think it’s a great idea. I was a little unclear, the advocates bring the attention of the microaggressions or whatever to the HR people?


JANE CONDON: Oh, first of all I wanna thank you for creating Advocates for people over 50, my peeps. [audience laughing] Thank you for looking out for us. And I guess, boy I so worry about the confidentiality, you know, but I suppose you just get everybody to buy into it. What’s great is then they could see patterns, because usually people who are sexist or something else, we keep it to ourselves often.

JILL WETZLER: Well we keep it to ourselves or we tell it to our friends who look after us.

JANE CONDON: Our limited friends.

JILL WETZLER: We tell our back channel.

JANE CONDON: Right, we back channel, but then to have somebody, I just think there could be many benefits to this, and I applaud you for the original idea, because it’s different from mentor or sponsorship. I love the word advocate anyway, you know, I like to think of myself sometimes as a cheerleader and you know, this is being like a corporate cheerleader. But anyway, very good idea.

JILL WETZLER: Thank you.

YUNFEI XU: Yeah, I think that I agree with you, this is a great idea and I think in many cases I do worry about the confidentiality. I think in many situations, you know once you hear the story you really have to make a decision on what the exactly the next steps should be. But on the other hand I’m also curious about have you thought about the other side of that is how can the advocate be a real advocate in terms of finding opportunities? I know we talk about male advocates a lot, but in this case, these are male, female, I think you didn’t really specify the gender of the advocate, but aside from solving issues, but what about the other side, broadcasting the skillsets that the female would have and finding opportunities what about in that direction for that advocate?

JILL WETZLER: Yeah, I mean I think that’s really the responsibility of management and what I hope for this program is that it gives people an avenue to feel like they can actually talk about things that are happening in their org with that protection of confidentiality, and the nice thing is that if you’re picking leaders in your organization I think it’s very easy to start out with managers ’cause they’re already trained on when to escalate to HR, that now you do have people with clout and experience in the organization who can maybe create that natural mentoring relationship as well just from some of these conversations, help coach them through the appropriate options. But still the other piece of that is thinking about organizationally what do we need to do if we start to see people coming with the same issues over and over again is there something that we can do as an organization to maybe make those opportunities available to everybody and more obvious to everybody.

YUNFEI XU: That’s great.

ALICIA LEBRIJA: Thank you Jill. In terms of how do you take this up to the management, have you thought about any way how you model maybe this anonymous conversations and when is it appropriate to scale it up? Have you thought about what comes next? How do these conversation become action for management?

JILL WETZLER: Yeah, so I think the idea, especially if you’re in a smaller organization, it’s pretty easy to sort of pick out the natural leaders in your organization, the people who talk about diversity and are very vocal about it and start to see how that goes and then maybe start building out a training program from there so that people don’t necessarily have to be managers, maybe you can hand select people for this role just based on their identities. In terms of how to funnel this up to management that’s really what that regular, cadenced check in is for, is to make sure that even for the most minor issue it gets reported to HR and documented somehow. So I’ve thought about maybe we have some categories for the types of issues that we see, if we keep hearing issues about managers over and over again, and they’re different issues about managers, but they’re still all centered around that, maybe we kind of categorize them that way and at some point somebody says okay, we just keep hearing about managers and how bad they are at giving feedback, maybe we need to invest in some training for our managers.

ALICIA LEBRIJA: And have you thought about the selection process for these advocates and maybe just in terms of ethics and values or have you thought about some standards? How do you choose those advocates so that you make sure that they are well balanced in many ways?

JILL WETZLER: Yeah, so, and just to be clear, I haven’t actually formally rolled out a program like this but my initial thinking is that you sort of pick a good intersection of diverse leaders in your organization. They can be from anywhere in the org, preferably many of them outside of HR, and people that come from your ERGs, your employee resource groups. So if you have an affinity group for black people in your organization, or for women, you wanna make sure that you have somebody from each one of those employee resource groups. I think that’s where I would start. Also one of the first things that I think would be important is to actually write out that confidentiality pledge and make sure that people understand that they’re signing something that sort of gives them some amount of liability and a lot of responsibility in terms of protecting the anonymity of people as long as it’s not an escalatable concern.


MATT WALLERT: So I wanna sort of clarify the idea to get to the core of it. So I think what I hear you saying is sometimes HR can seem adversarial, right? I have an issue, they’re protecting the best interests of the company, which I think is an example of bad HR. So one of my questions is does this really just perpetuate a culture of well now HR is really the adversary, so I have an advocate, like I have my lawyer and they have their lawyer that is HR and now we’re in adversarial relationship. So how do we avoid that?

JILL WETZLER: Yeah, so a couple thoughts on that. First of all, like I said in my example the advocate can encourage somebody to go talk to HR. I think a lot of times there’s just an assumption that if you report something to HR it’s gonna launch an investigation when in fact, from my experience, and I’ve had to escalate some things, you know, a lot of times HR is like how would you like me to respond to this, or have you thought about doing this? And a lot of people just don’t know from experience that that’s what they’re gonna find. I have another example that I think shows where our current HR programs are sort of falling short. So I’ve been in tech for 10 years, which means for 10 years I’ve walked into a meeting room with some people that I don’t know very well, maybe they’re in a different org, and I hear oh you must be from recruiting, or I hear we can’t get this meeting started until somebody from engineering is represented, and I’m like hey, what’s up? And that’s not something, I mean, it’s never occurred to me to go to HR over that. If I did go to HR, what would they say to me? There may not be women in the org who sort of understand how awful that gets to be after it happens for the ninth or 10th time. And so by giving people a way to even just mention these small issues maybe somebody who’s straight out of college comes to me as an advocate, tells me about it, and now I give her some real concrete advice like hey, first of all you’re not alone, this has happened to me all the time, it still continues to happen to me even with my current title. It also means that I walk into a meeting and I make sure that somebody knows who I am or I make sure ahead of time that people know that there’s going to be a woman from engineering joining, that my name is out there. And so those are like real tactical pieces of advice that I can give her that might help her not feel so alone and might help in retaining her. It also starts to form a relationship between us where maybe that turns into a natural mentoring relationship. And the third thing that it does is that maybe, well I have to report it back up to HR, right, so I report it back up to HR, somebody came to me and told me they were mistaken for recruiting again, and then HR doesn’t really maybe do anything about it. And then maybe the next week an advocate comes in and says hey, a black man came to me and said they keep mistaking him for security staff and then another advocate comes in and says this Hispanic woman said people keep asking her where to put her dishes after lunch, and now suddenly the CEO is mobilized to send out an email to the whole company saying get it together or maybe that signals the organization that they need to do a little more advocacy for their own employees and they need to showcase them at all hands presentations and they need to make sure that they’re being recognized in their role so that it’s not so weird to see a woman in engineering.

MATT WALLERT: So to clarify what I’m hearing, I think I hear three big parts from you. I hear validation, right? Hey, you’re not alone, I’ve heard this before. I hear strategic thinking, hey here’s some good advice. And then I hear a sort of bubbling up data layer that’s like oh, your person told you this, and your person told you this, and your person, oh yeah we have a systemic issue. Is that like a good summary?

JILL WETZLER: Exactly, it’s perfect.

MATT WALLERT: Well I really appreciate you spending some time with us. Thank you so much.

JANE CONDON: I think everyone will want you to be their advocate.

JILL WETZLER: Thank you, thank you very much. [audience applause]

JEFFREY FORBES: Thank you so much, Jill. So next up, we have Create the NCWIT Summit News Room to Save Tech Journalism and Diversity, presented by veteran Flash Talker Alberto Roca. [audience applause]

ALBERT ROCA: Thank you. The journalism industry is not diverse. As this study shows in red, the industry is very white, and on the right, men outnumber women almost two to one. This can lead to problems in tech reporting, especially about diversity news. This next example shows a report that claims there’s the first Tech Diversity conference in 2015, which actually ignores the history of other events. I was involved in correcting this, as the updated headline below shows. [audience laughing] so there are other problems, such as blind spots. There’s been a new initiative called Project Include, which is getting a lot of publicity lately, but in the 60 reports I’ve seen there’s been no mention about NCWIT and all of the things that it’s been doing. And there’s been no real serious criticism about this project, you’d have to look at Twitter for that. Then there’s the bigger problem of tech reporters who have agendas. This person rails against feminism, diversity, and social justice activities. So what compounds this problem is the lack of any real, professional society for tech journalists. The IPG, for instance, is just a website and email list for professionals and it has no conference, as opposed to these other organizations which have student members, who can go to a conference and learn about the craft through mentoring. So for any real criticism about tech reporting in the industry we rely on grassroots efforts such as from these organizations or from tweets, but the question is what’s the long-term stability of those types of efforts? Countdown… So what I am proposing is that NCWIT introduce journalism training into their conference, specifically through a student newsroom at the Summit, where on the ground reports about the activities in the event would be pulled through these news stories. We’re already introducing media professionals to the conference and organizations like the OpEd project and we would be training students, specifically the collegiate fellows who are already here, so all we’d have to do is introduce some computers and some journalism mentors. So what would happen is that we can model after organizations that already exist that have student chapters and student newsrooms like these diversity journalism organizations for Hispanics, blacks, native Americans, and their other organizations. The Latino Reporter for instance, is produced by the students. And the outcome is that we would have communication skills being learned by these students, especially writing skills, so they’ll become citizen journalists. They’d also learn about reporting ethics and responsible use of social media. I know about these things since I contributed a diversity chapter to a new book on science blogging. A larger outcome is a watchdog community who would be monitoring the tech journalism and tech industry. For example, NCWIT already has a collaboration with OpEd project, so I hope you took their workshop earlier today to learn about those skills. And wider partners would be tech media companies themselves. Bring those reporters to the NCWIT Conference so they can learn, but we would also pressure them to look outside Silicon Valley for stories and things that are happening, especially around tech diversity. So in the future, what I call phase two we could have year-round publicity for NCWIT activities, such as the Aspire IT projects or the Alliance work, and these best student reports could be published perhaps on the NCWIT blog. And this would catalyze interactions between the students and professionals. And we could also have the students attend other tech conferences so they could report about things that they learn, and I hear that NCWIT has a collaboration now with the Linux Foundation, so we have those conferences available for such an effort. So there’s actually some synergy here that’s interesting between what’s happening in the journalism world, where reporters are now expected to pick up skills in multimedia and in data, that’s tech and coding, and so there are some interesting things that are happening, so for example some new tech apps have actually come from the needs of journalism. In blue, Storify is a service used for curating social media, and then below, the D3 JavaScript library is used for online visualization. So think of what future creativity our NCWIT students with this training could have, because mobile is allowing now all these apps to essentially become media and communication services, but we would need our students to become creators instead of just consumers. So what I’m talking about generally here is the interface between STEM, communication, and diversity. So my own efforts in this are introducing communication skills to diverse scientists like at SACNAS, for Hispanics, and introducing diversity conversations for science journalism organizations. So specifically for NCWIT what I’m talking about is introducing communication skills for Latina coders, La Technolochicas, and introducing tech skills for Latina journalists. So think of the collaborations that could exist that would introduce diversity into tech journalism. Be happy to take any questions. [audience applause]

JANE CONDON: Well it was wonderful, Alberto. And I applaud you.

ALBERTO: Well, thank you.

JANE CONDON: You have such a wonderful heart, I saw your presentation last year on video and everything, and god knows, this man does more to try to help minorities and women than anybody I know.

ALBERTO: Thank you.

JANE CONDON: Somebody likes you. [audience clapping and cheering] And you just have such a good heart. And I remember you saying you were first in your family,

ALBERTO ROCA: Well certainly to get a Ph.D. or higher ed outside of sort of a clinical field. So after my fourth year of graduate school my parents in the health industry were wondering well you’re done now, it’s like no, no, no, I’m creating the textbooks, not just reading them, so it was a whole other story to educate them about that.

JANE CONDON: Well, you’re such a polymath. My only small problem with this is I feel like you’ve made 10 ideas, you know, so maybe if we pick five, or three, it’s a lot to do. As a former journalist, yeah, I worked for Life and Fortune magazine, that was back when I was a responsible person, I just let that go. [audience laughing] Too much pressure, but I like your idea of policing the tech journalists a little bit. You know, I think sometimes we get promoted from within to levels that we’re really sort of not qualified, but just somebody should be watching the watchers, you know? And so that was one of my favorite things. But just as always you’re a fount of ideas.

ALBERTO ROCA: Thank you, I can clarify that the idea for implementation or ideation, as the tech world calls it, is just to create a student newsroom, but I spent a lot of time about what could happen in the future from just that simple idea of building off of Technolochicas, building off of the OpEd project, but codifying that in a student newsroom where we actually train the students who are already coming in some journalism skills and getting them to create their first clips for a portfolio, ’cause with that then they’re left on their own.

JANE CONDON: Then it helps them.


JANE CONDON: It’s a win win then.

ALBERTO ROCA: And just reporting about what happens here gives NCWIT the attention that it deserves, rather than the reporters out there just looking at their favorite diversity initiative that happens to be in Silicon Valley, and then what I call this monoculture of ideas just keeps getting recycled. For Project Include, no disrespect to the individuals, but the industry is such that the first New York Times article was republished almost word for word in the Houston Chronicle, translated into Portuguese in Brazil. The same thing happened with a Washington Post article, and many of the other articles were essentially the same structure, so no real critique, and that’s what’s missing. Unfortunately, investigative journalism is dying.

JANE CONDON: It is, Spotlight wouldn’t happen today. The old media can’t afford to put the resources into it, which is part of the reasons we have some of the problem candidates we have. And not to add another idea, but I’m just thinking if we had a Twitter room or something here, because I belong to a group called Women in Tech, Media, and Entertainment, there are very few of us in entertainment who are the tech lovers, we stand there and applaud when the tech people do their things. But one thing we do for each other when someone has a message they wanna get out, I think NCWIT could do this too, is we actually, when we send around emails or whatever, we put in Twitter links of what we would actually say, so if we had some young people here who were following the proceedings and putting it, and then sending it around to some of the rest of us, we just have to copy and send. I just think that could increase our reach.

ALBERTO ROCA: Yeah, absolutely.

JANE CONDON: But again, you don’t need another idea.

ALBERTO ROCA: It’s an interesting challenge. Even NCWIT, as successful as it is, still has challenges with communication just because it’s not necessarily their primary mission, but it’s so integral to all organizations. I archive on my website, minoritypostdoc.org, look, diversity stakeholders. There are about 60 organizations, SACNAS I mentioned is one of them, Hispanics and Native Americans in science, they struggle with communication too. So what I’m trying to introduce here is this idea of collaborating. We’ve got diversity organizations in journalism, we have diversity organizations in STEM, or math or whatnot. Let’s bring them together so there can be synergy, ’cause the reporters are looking for stories and we’re looking for publicity and legitimacy, and so I think it’s a marriage there.

JANE CONDON: Not to take more of your time, but I just wanna reassure you, because I worked for Life and Fortune magazines as a reporter, we would find our sources in the smallest, most insignificant, like reporters read their local papers, particularly if they work at the national level, and to be quite honest, they kind of steal the ideas. Not steal, but appropriate and improve and tweak, that’s what they would say. They steal the friggen’ ideas, so the more you get out there, yeah. I should cede the floor, we should move on, Alberto.

ALBERTO ROCA: My last comment to that is that NCWIT is at the forefront of just this new virtual community of using tech to communicate. So what used to be talking to the woman on the street is now really who’s on Twitter and who’s got that visibility in a Google search and so on.

YUNFEI XU: I think it’s a really wonderful idea, I think you are really on to something and I know that my 12 year old, he would read New York Times on his phone, but he also watch tech news all the time on YouTube, so I think the younger generations definitely, they’re not just paper journalism anymore. So I think getting a lot of different partners to write about tech conferences, those things are great, and I think Alicia probably being TV network, she’s gonna have lots of comments about this topic, but I do think one idea you had about conferences, I think NCWIT definitely can do a lot more about going to different technology conferences and trying to bring diversity ideas into there. Do you have a little bit more details around tech conferences?

ALBERTO ROCA: Well, this is actually an idea that I’m just borrowing from the Affinity Group Alliance, where people in the audience are already attending other conferences, we just need a communication channel to be able to know when we could have an NCWIT meetup, or whatnot. And then my idea is just to formalize that by having the students who are attending have a responsibility, rather than to just sit around and try to network, give them the idea, we want you to interview x, so then they have a reason to try to start that ice breaker of I’d like to interview for your story, and so use sort of the journalism reporting angle as a way for them to network.

JANE CONDON: From someone who might give them a job, kids.

ALBERTO ROCA: Exactly, exactly, absolutely, yes.

ALICIA LEBRIJA: Well, thank you, I love the subject, I must say. I think you’re challenging us, all of us, to think about that anybody could be a reporter with a cell phone, so you’re tackling not only an issue about actually furthering and moving technology with women, you’re talking about many ethical issues and it becomes a huge issue what you’re putting on today. So I really thank you for challenge all of us, challenging us, not only in terms of technology, in terms of journalism in general. That anyone can become a journalist, truly, and there’s a huge ethical issue around becoming a journalist and I think with your subject we need to talk about ethics, and when you are putting this subject to us, my first question would be if you had to choose a single purpose of your project, what would that be?

ALBERTO ROCA: Mentoring, Because what we need is for the students to learn how to use these tools that they’re picking up anyway. I mean Twitter, Snapchat and so on, they need mentoring from professionals to know how to do that. If you wanna use it for personal reasons, do it this way. If you wanna use it as a reporting reason, do it this way, learn from people’s experience. So that’s why the student newsroom would just really, finding the computers is trivial, and finding the students is trivial, it’s finding the journalism professionals who would be the mentors to educate them how you’d use these tools appropriately.

ALICIA LEBRIJA: And I think we need to generate inspiring stories around tech journalism and ethical tech journalism. Students and young people don’t really know where the source came from and that’s a huge issue for anyone in school. And how would you tackle that one down, how would you think about really engaging any person into an ethics conversation and a source conversation?

ALBERTO ROCA: Well, so for ethics, in the science blogging book, another plug, there’s actually a chapter in there on ethics, which is novel for that book, and it was produced by Janet Stemwedel, who’s a professor of ethics at San Jose State. Then we can benefit from the work that’s done by the Society for Professional Journalists. They have their ethics code, and the online news organization now have their new digital ethics code. So there’s a lot of information out there, but unless you’re a professional, and I don’t even consider myself a reporter, I’m just an academic tryin’ to learn a lot, but that experience I would try to give to the students to let them know if you wanna do things professionally, you’ve gotta learn from what people who care about the industry are setting as standards. [audience applause]

MATT WALLERT: So the shot clock tells me I only have 20 seconds. [panel laughing] Thank you, so as you exit I guess what I would challenge you is this, is the focus here on how do we find the next Kara Swisher or on why everyone isn’t already Kara Swisher? And more importantly, you know, Kieran Snyder last year from, who runs Textio, did a great analysis, right, where we retweet women when they talk about women and we retweet men when they talk about tech. I worry, how do you deal and grapple with this issue as you go forward with NCWIT on it? On not saying well, okay, all of the women journalists in the world go cover this women’s journalism conference. Don’t we need, like, the white dudes to cover the women’s journalism conference?

ALBERTO ROCA: Absolutely, so that’s why I put in there, obviously only 15 seconds, the idea of bringing tech media companies and their tech reporters here, ’cause most of them are white males. And we need those allies, and to educate them, because I’m sure, I’m assuming they didn’t mean wrong, as some of these examples I showed, but we won’t know until we actually have that conversation, so they’re not just finding sources by just Twitter, or what they read from another story. So there has to be a dialogue. But if I could end with one quick comment of, that I hope the academics may have picked up, that I was tryin’ to emphasize here writing skills, ’cause Technolochicas is a perfect example of broadcast skills, but maybe by a student newsroom and emphasizing writing skills, we could identify those students who may wanna go on to graduate school, ’cause those writing skills are critical for them to be able to survive graduate school, produce papers, and be the next generation of faculty, so I have an ulterior motive there. Broadcast is important, but writing skills are gonna be key for the next generation of academic computer sciences. Thank you. [audience applause]

JEFFREY FORBES: Thank you, Alberto. And now we have Promoting Empowerment of Women with Disabilities in Pursuing Computing Majors and Careers, by Daniela Marghitu. [audience applause]

DANIELA MARGHITU: I’m truly honored to be with you today and one of my favorite sayings is that disabilities are not sexist or racist, and they do not discriminate. I sincerely hope we are clear on that. Mentorship, Inclusion, No-Pity, Dignity is my vision on helping and encouraging workers with disability to pursue careers and majors in computing science and in general computing. MIND is not just about that, it’s also about helping people to understand how to treat girls with disability with dignity. Here is me, I was born in Romania in 1958 with a broom. Now I never used that broom to fly and I am not related with Count Dracula. [audience laughing] my life in 15 seconds, I got my BS in Computer Software and Engineering, I started work as a software engineering, I married my high school sweetheart somewhere there, our daughter Stefania was born, I was accepted as a Ph.D. and I witnessed the Romania anticommunist revolution. One of the happiest moment of my life was to walk in the park with my daughter. In 1991 my husband and I moved to Dallas to pursue our Ph.D. studies. In 1992 I was rendered as a paraplegic as the result of a tragic car accident, and this is where everything changed. In 1992 I started to my long rehab, physical rehab process. My professor and advisor Dr. Tanik sent me a package of research papers and told me you are not a patient, you have a future, and I got the message, a very, very, very, you know, wonderful message. Then basically 1992 my daughter and my mother came to USA and I met a wonderful lady with the same kind of life like me and we immediately connected, then yes, I was able to swim in the ocean. Yay! [audience laughing] In 1994 my family and I moved to Auburn where my husband started his career as an associate professor and my daughter was in the first grade. I realize I’m not going to die, so I say, heck, I’m going to be paraplegic mother, woman, wife and academia. In 1998 I obtained my Ph.D. title and in 2000 I started as full time faculty in Computer Sciences and Software Engineering. In 2005 I was assigned to be the chair of the People with Disabilities committee at Auburn University, and my first decision that I made is to request people with disabilities to be included in the multi-cultural and diversity platform. There were a lot of fights, but overnight my platform was approved, and the next day we officially informed everybody about it. Here is me with a few of the people that I love the most, no need to tell about their career, they’re just amazing people, Dr. Tim Bell, Dr. Rich Allender and Dr. Shane Baxter. Working with them on the first project of broadening participation with a focus on women and disabilities was wonderful. I became co-founder and co-PI of Alabama Alliance for Students with Disabilities in STEM and that was wonderful. I had the opportunity to mentor hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities and women. That’s a wonderful experience. Then I developed seven formal and informal inclusive programs, funded by NSFC, BP, you name it, RTE, Microsoft Research, but my favorite after all of them is the Computer Science for All Girls that I started to develop in 2003 with funds from NCWIT Academic Alliance funding, it’s a wonderful program, become so powerful and has such an impact in our community. Then basically I want to inform you that in 2012, like I didn’t have enough on my shoulder, I became member of the United Nation International Network for Women with Disabilities, and that’s a wonderful experience. I had the chance to share knowledge, experience, pain, happiness, with dozens, hundreds of women from around the world. Here is Sara Tabor, she’s a person with disability, she’s an expert in digital media and yes, she play hockey as you can see right there. Here is other four outstanding ladies and mentors, that I personally, two of them I met. Chieko, a scientist with IBM, Jeanine, a researcher with Sandia Labs, Shiri, professor Cornell Tech, Annie Anton, chair and professor at Georgia Tech. And another girl that I hope you will help me to become maybe one of those mentors, Cynthia, she’s at Helen Keller School for The Blind and she loves computers, she can’t stop using them. So what I want you to help me convince NCWIT to work on creating a powerful box with knowledge and tools you know we could reach educators and administration so we can create an inclusive program. I want us to basically be able to, corporation to basically create mentorship and inclusive recruiting process. I want us basically to be able to look with dignity, not pity, as women and girl with disabilities. I want us also to, when we see a person with a disability, to see how beautiful they are and how many capabilities they have, not the wrong part. Thank you so much. [audience applause]

JANE CONDON: You’re very inspiring, that’s all I got, really.

DANIELA MARGHITU: Coming from you, it’s–

JANE CONDON: It’s wonderful what you do, just I guess what I was wondering, your disability came on later in life, through the tragic car accident. What do you do, how do you counsel younger people who, you know their whole lives, is it any different or not really?

DANIELA MARGHITU: I think that it’s different because if you are born with a disability first of all there is one approach, you know? This is why actually I started the K-12 disability project from very early age, because if they are born with disability or if they become disabled at a very early stage it’s initially about building the self esteem. They have to see the little star, you know, and build the self esteem, because if we let them grow up and become adults without having the self esteem then it’s getting more and more difficult.

JANE CONDON: That’s a great point.

DANIEL MARGHITU: So, we help the very young people born with disabilities or that become, get their disabilities very young, you know, and I told you that this is something that actually I want to work with NCWIT because we have to bring an infrastructure, we have to bring you know, alliances, we have to bring corporation, we have to bring educators. I am working on training K-12 teachers, you know they have big hearts, and they want to help, but they are scared, ADA, you know lawsuits, how am I going to proceed, so they prefer to put those little kids in dark rooms with counselor because they are scared to handle them in their room. That’s exactly what we don’t have to do. So we have to build an infrastructure, we have to work with teachers, we have to work with parents. For example, in my camps, I have already a reputation about caring for children with disabilities so parents are somehow learning about me and they bring their children, down’s syndrome, asperger, autism, you name it, because they can’t believe their kids are capable. So then they come at the end of the day, we have like an open house and they come and they see what their kids are doing, and they go like, oh my god, is this my child? So you see, even with parents sometimes we have to work, because again, teachers love their kids, parents, come on, they love their kids, but they are scared. Why, because they don’t know, and they are scared that maybe somehow they will hurt more than helping, correct, you know? Then with the adults like me, I think that the problem somehow is even stronger, because in my case I was lucky. My career was not affected by my disability. Lots of my brain was not damaged, you know, thank you Lord. But basically you see there are other people who are rendered disabled and they cannot continue, so they have to go through a lot of process. I’m telling you that even for me it’s very important for adult people to have family and community support. I was blessed, I mean I had a family like, I just don’t want, but I think as you become an adult you have to feel that you are needed. You have to feel that there are people who need you to become who you were, or as much as possible who you were before. Why, because they need you, they don’t care if you are in a wheelchair, right? They’re happy to have you in their life, correct? You know that’s the most important. So I think that for the adult people, again the family, the support, and the professional that can show them that they can actually become useful citizens. It’s very important, because I think once a person with a disability can prove themselves, they are not a burden for the family, for the community, and they can almost be the same like before, I think that’s the magic, and this is why we have to work, you know, and this cannot be done by one person, and cannot be done again. It has to start from very early stages, as you mentioned. You are wonderful, actually by that question, because there are different approaches, or different stages. What I am talking right now, I am talking mainly about elementary, secondary, and post-secondary, so we can work from very early stages to bring an infrastructure, to make sure that there is no teacher who when he or she gets a student with a disability, they’re like, ADA, lawsuit, I am losing my job, you know what I’m saying? Now to say, you are all mine. I know exactly why I have for you the box you know right there, the tools, the knowledge, I’m calling Rich Allaner and I’m going to find out more about how to do that, I’m calling Shane Baxter, or I’m calling you know there are so many people that know, so when I’m calling Microsoft, you know, they have outstanding support for accessibility, you’re all the wonderful companies because I know I work with them. But the point is, we have to bring that infrastructure. People have to know, okay, who I call, what I have to do, what I need, is there something to help me? So this is where I come from.

YUNFI XU: That’s great, I think it’s a really inspirational story, thank you so much. But I do have a question here, I’m trying to understand that, you know, very often I think NCWIT can function as a resource, a research organization and they have a lot of relationships with different corporations and all that. So are you thinking that they can partner up with other organizations, even some other nonprofit organizations to create a program or this is a program that will be entirely generated from NCWIT’s side?

DANIELA MARGHITU: No I actually think and I think that Lucy will agree with me, that basically we try to build a strong infrastructure community, okay, and in the sense that, for example, talking about corporation, correct? I know that corporation become more and more interested in diversification and I know that more and more, in the past, how many people with disabilities were working in the companies, you know, they were scared even to hire them, but right now I know that there is a significant increase in the number of people with disability. So can you imagine what it would be for a girl like that girl that I showed you, if she gets to have a summer internship or mentorship with a blind, because I know for example Microsoft are able to help blind people, you know, and she goes to work there. Can you see the difference right there? And then also in the process of recruiting, for workforce or for internship, we have to make sure the person who are doing the recruiting, exactly how I say, when you see a person with disability you see their capability and the beauty inside them, you are not scared about the fact that they are in a wheelchair. Because maybe they’ll be even more motivated, actually to do the work, you see what I’m saying, so as I was mentioning, it’s mentorship, which is very important, and then also rigorous, very inclusive, fair process of recruiting, okay? In which you care about what they can do and what they are capable to do. You are not scared about the fact that a hidden or obvious disabilities. And I think that I’m in sync with NCWIT because NCWIT is working with many other nonprofit foundation organization because, I think that we are smart enough and care enough about girls with disability to figure out we know that much, so basically I think that we’d be open to work with any organization interested in helping us bring this program in a box, this practice is correct, the strong infrastructure of mentors from academia or from corporation. Did I answer your question?

YUNFEI XU: That’s great.

ALICIA LEBRIJA: Thank you Daniela, and maybe just out of your own story, you’ve talked about inclusion in the formal school, in the workforce, in the family. If you could only do one thing, what would you do, and I know you talked about networking and mentoring, and you talked about beginning early. What would your recommendation be for preschool education? You take girls with certain disability, what would you tell those teachers? How do you generate that environment that needs to take place everywhere that little girl goes, since she’s very young. What would you tell?

DANIELA MARGHITU: I know, believe me, I have worked with girl like that. One summer I had a program with 60 students with disability that were basically preschool and they were, majority of them African American, and I was, and I go like, I cannot go there, they don’t want me, I was really scared. And there was, just to tell you a story, this will probably give you the answer. A little child, autistic, you know, at the beginning he didn’t even want to talk with me, he was there in the back. Then I was talking to them, you know we’re gonna do this cool stuff, game development, robots, okay, I have a bias I’m computer scientist I was trying to bring them to that, and then the little boy slowly but surely would come toward me, you know the autistic children, and he end up by coming and putting his hands like that on my topic, he said I love you, I think I want to work with you. So my point is I think it’s a matter of, I think that educators in general are good people, right, you know we have to on that, but we have to show them the practice, exactly how I mentioned. It means like, if a children is hyperactive you’re not gonna put down that it’s a bad boy and put him in the corner on his knees, ’cause there are still people that do that. I actually was at a meeting when I heard a student that got a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon and she was in a situation like that. So you have to address somehow to have the fundamental knowledge about different kind of disabilities, and how to address each one of them. So, exactly how I was telling you, successful practice case studies that educators can see and figure out depending on the disability, hidden or whatever type, how to address. And then mentors, professional, if I don’t find enough information in a practice or in a program in a box, then I have a call, correct? I call NCWIT or I have a mentor, I have an expert in the network that I can call. Is that okay?

ALICIA LEBRIJA: Yes, thank you.

MATT WALLERT: So I feel like I’m always the mean shark. We have to walk off this stage and judge something. You’ve talked about a number of challenges and a number of opportunities. What’s the one crisp ask you’re making of NCWIT that you want us to consider?

DANIELA MARGHITU: NCWIT all the alliances?

MATT WALLERT: The reason you’re on this stage is to pitch something that we can actually go and do. What is the thing?

DANIELA MARGHITU: Exactly, so basically as I mentioned, there are different level. One level is basically to create a program in a box where expert from all fields you know, can show a little bit about inclusiveness. Another approach would be to go through the existing because NCWIT has amazing existing program in a box on practices. And maybe we can have advice for each other and sort of an access, appendices, where we say you know what, I have done that, I have used some of this and say, you know what? If you have a child autistic make sure you address this, this, and this, or if you have a child blind make sure you do this and this. So, creating a new program, the big picture, maybe going through the current program in a box and practices, and giving some advice for how to address different kind of disabilities. And then, this is for the K-12, and actually for the post-secondary the academia. Train the professors. I’m a professor, I have professors who are scared, and they don’t want to know when a child come with a reference, or have a disability.

MATT WALLERT: I’m gonna stop you, remember, the short thing you’re asking us to do. So it sounds like K through 12 addressing program in a box.


MATT WALLERT: Thank you very much. [audience applause]

JANE CONDON: That was awesome. I would do whatever Daniela told me to do. [panel mumbling]

JEFFREY FORBES: Thank you, Daniela. So our final talk today, Can Agile Unlock Diversity’s Potential? By Ruha Devanesan [audience applause]

RUHA DEVANESAN: Hi, everyone. Wow, that’s a tough one to follow. So, I work at Symantec, which is a cybersecurity company that’s about 10,000 employees all across the world, and my job at Symantec is in diversity and inclusion, so a lot of what I think about is how do we unlock the potential of diverse teams, not just in engineering but throughout the company. And when I’m talking about diversity I’m not just talking about race and gender and the things you see above the surface, but everything below the surface as well that makes us who we are and makes us work the way we work. There’s been a lot of research that talks about the fact that diversity unlocks innovation, which then unlocks revenue, so the business case for diversity is strong. NCWIT has done a lot of that research, so I encourage you to go and read it. Something people don’t talk about a lot is the fact that diverse teams aren’t always innovative and aren’t always productive. Bringing a bunch of people together with different work styles, different communication styles can often lead to confusion, can decrease productivity, can increase frustration and make people feel like they really aren’t connecting with each other. So what do we need to do to unlock that potential of diversity? A lot of what we think about at Symantec is how do we encourage inclusive behavior? That really is what unlocks diverse teams. And I have a hypothesis that I wanna share with you today that the Agile methodology can help us unlock diversity, unlock the potential of diversity on non-engineering teams, engineering teams as well. And the reason I think this is there are a lot of essential tenets of Agile that are inclusive behavior focused. So, for those of you who don’t know Agile Teams, I’m gonna talk about the scrum methodology ’cause it’s the one that most Agile Teams use. You have a product owner who talks to the clients, brings the problem to the team, you’ve got a scrum master and then you’ve got the developers on the scrum team. So they make a list of issues, a backlog, and then the team together take a chunk of that and in a one or two week sprint work on that together. So one essential thing about scrum teams that I think really works with inclusion is that they call for very tight knit interdisciplinary teams. Everyone on your team brings something unique to the team, and you’re rewarded as a team, incrementally, when you complete tasks. So this really gives an incentive to teams that may not inherently work together, it gives them an incentive to work together towards a common goal. Another great thing about scrum and Agile is the Daily Standup. Every day everybody on the team stands up and says what they’ve done, what they plan on doing today and what they’re blocked on. If someone’s blocked, another member of the team can stand up and say I can help you with that, I’m gonna help you unblock that. The Scrum Master is another really essential tenet in Agile methodology and I think it could have huge implications on non-development diverse teams. Imagine if you had someone on your team whose only job it was was to help you get your work done and to make sure every single team member was performing at their maximum, so to give them whatever resources they needed to get in order to get their work done. Another really great aspect of Agile that I think could work with diverse teams is having a project management tool, either a technological one or a white board where everybody is transparent about what they’re working on. This also gives introverts a way to express things they’re stuck on that they may not be comfortable revealing in a stand up. Retrospectives is the final thing I wanna talk about. Scrum teams get together at the end of a two week sprint and they talk about what worked and what didn’t work as a team. So, I wanna stop and remind us here that Agile does not mean diverse. This is a screen shot from the TV show Silicon Valley, and most Agile teams in the Valley kind of look like that, and it’s not a surprise, so here are the 12 guys who invented the Agile methodology. Not very diverse, and when they were coming up with the ideas that led to Agile methodology I don’t think they were thinking about diversity. They were thinking about making productive teams. Oh, the gif works. What I propose here is that if we introduce Agile methodology into diverse teams we’ll have better morale on teams, they’ll work better together and they’ll be more productive. So my ask of you is that we do, that NCWIT invests in some research on this, on the intersection of Agile methodology and diverse teams. There hasn’t been a whole lot of research done on it. I believe there’s one academic study by two Israeli professors from 2012, and that’s it so far. So I think it’s a huge area, it’s a huge opportunity. Thank you. [audience applause]

MATT WALLERT: So before Microsoft Ventures, and before Microsoft, and before two start ups I was in academia. I’m a social psychologist, so at the end when you showed a two by two matrix I’m like great, two by two matrix, finally something I understand. So I love, love, love the idea of this study. I think it’s really, really core. Can you talk a little bit to us about sort of the expansion that comes after the study, right? So let’s pretend your theory is right, all studies test the hypotheses. Your hypothesis is that a diverse Agile team will be the best performing of the four sort of quadrants. Then what?

RUHA DEVANESAN: Then what? I think that resource can be taken to non-tech environments, non-engineering environments and can really help the field of diversity put some structure and some guard rails around what inclusion means. There’s a lot of study and a lot of research about inclusive behavior, but it’s really hard to pin it down and put it in a handbook and give it to people and say implement this and you’ll work better as a team, so I think the great thing about the Agile methodology is it’s really easy to scale, and if we had something similar for inclusive behavior I think it could have huge impact on diverse teams.

MATT WALLERT: So what I think I hear you saying is you think Agile itself inherently has some great diverse qualities and that maybe something that might come next is something like a training for scrum masters on diversity, sort of increasing that within the team, incorporating that into Agile.

RUHA DEVANESAN: So I’m actually suggesting the reverse, I’m suggesting incorporating Agile into diverse teams that are not technical at all, and there is a movement towards using the Agile methodology in business, on finance teams, on legal teams, sales teams, but no one’s thinking about how that affects diverse teams. So my hypothesis is, if you have a group of individuals on a team that come from different backgrounds, have different communication styles, having something like a scrum master to facilitate group dynamics would be really useful. Having daily stand ups would be really useful. So taking some best practices from Agile and implementing those on diverse teams throughout business, throughout nonprofits. I come from a nonprofit background and this would be huge if we had something like this to just put some structure around team dynamics.

MATT WALLERT: Thank you.

ALICIA LEBRIJA: Thank you, Ruha, and I also agree that this is a wonderful topic that goes beyond technology. It’s about social interaction in general, and how do you generate those social interactions that generate the most value, not only in terms of economics, because you’ve already played that out. In Spanish there’s a saying that I’m going to try to translate, but it says if you wanna go and reach fast your objective, go alone. If you wanna get farther and really get to have a better world, go with others. But it’ll take time. So when you talk about trying to reach for a higher goal, trying to reach for what I think as a society makes us better, which is being in a diverse environment. What are those incentives you talked about? How do you generate those incentives to lower frustration and really reward diversity and taking longer, when you’re at the head of a company or NGO, how do you really put some value into generating those diverse teams?

RUHA DEVANESAN: So I guess that’s two questions. So putting some value on bringing a methodology like Agile into diverse teams is pretty easy to justify because we can take from the tech sector some data on how much more productive teams are when they take a huge workload and they break it down into small digestible chunks and they do short sprints. So there’s a lot of data to show that Agile makes teams more productive, increases morale and all of that. And then there’s separately a lot of data to show that diversity, long term, has great payoffs in terms of productivity and profitability. Agile is more of a short term payoff so I think the combination of the two will mean both short term and long term gains that are easy to quantify in a dollar value, if that’s what people are looking for. Which often is what they’re looking for.

YUNFEI XU: All right, so before this Lucy warned us that we cannot ask too much detail, but with my engineering background I have to, ’cause we use Agile all the time. So one thing I worry about is cross functional teams and they’re extremely hard to manage through the scrum ’cause they have different functionalities and they do have to work together. So when you have cross functional teams with very diverse backgrounds how do you expect them to work?

RUHA DEVANESAN: So they have to work anyway, right? We have cross functional teams with diverse backgrounds and they sometimes they’re not working very well. My recommendation is implementing some of these structures that facilitate team dynamics, so an example is, people from some cultures are quieter and they don’t always wanna raise their hand in the team meeting, so having something like a daily stand up where every single team member is asked to say what they’re working on brings that introvert out and gives that person a chance to talk about what they’re working on. And that daily stand up is also couched in the tenet of our goal here is to help each other get to the end, so team members are encouraged to mentor each other, to help each other unblock if there are blockages. That kind of discussion doesn’t really happen on non-technical teams, not teams I’ve been on. I’m really lucky if I have a manager that creates that kind of structure around having a conversation and debriefing and talking about how we work as a team. So I think, really what I’m saying is bringing kind of a rigid structure, Agile is a very rigid structure, bringing that to non-technical teams that are used to working in a much less rigid environment will increase accountability of team members, increase transparency and reduce the opportunity of some implicit biases that start taking place when you have no formal structure.

YUNFEI XU: So are you saying that you’re expecting NCWIT to work with non-technology sectors or maybe pockets of non-technology groups within a company and trying to convince them to adopt Agile process? Is this the pitch here?

RUHA DEVANESAN: Yeah, so many tech companies have engineering teams that are already using Agile, so NCWIT could partner with those engineering teams and have scrum masters that are already within the company go and train and facilitate non-technical teams to adopt this methodology and pilot it. I think that’s a really good way of kind of seeding the research. Another option is to go to non-technical teams that are already implementing Agile, so there are companies that are not technical that are starting to implement, or not computer science companies, so John Deere, which is the tractor makers, introduced Agile, for example. They’d be a great place to start.

YUNFEI XU: Thank you.

JANE CONDON: I don’t have much to say, uncharacteristically. But I, this is one of the reasons I love scientists, I think and computer people, is because I love this idea of a daily stand up and actually just saying out, what are your roadblocks. People love to help other people, you know? So I really think you’re on to something.

RUHA DEVANESAN: Cool, thank you.

JANE CONDON: So thank you so much.

RUHA DEVANESAN: Thank you all. [audience applause]

JEFFREY FORBES: Thank you Ruha, and thanks to everyone for a great Flash Tank. Let’s give it up for all of our Flash Talkers. And also how about our Sharks? Great job, very insightful and incisive questions. I’d also like to give a special shout out to Jen Borcala, who was waiting in the wings to give a, as an alternate Flash Talker, but we hope to hear from her next time.

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